Danish Romantic composer Christian Horneman [1840–1906] wrote two string quartets, in 1859 and 1861, respectively. They are both conservative Romantic works each consisting of four movements, including one slow movement, which was the standard form for string quartets of Horneman’s time.
The First Quartet opens in a stirring fashion with sweeping, pulsating violin melodies. Several solo cello interludes make for a fine contrast with the expressive nature of the violins, which constantly push the music forward. Rhythmic melodic lines abound and the cello is very prominent, often repeating violin phrases – this is uplifting music. A hint of a minor tonality deepens the texture as the violins continue to intertwine with strong, positive melodies. A swirling passage leads to a final chord.
An andante movement follows, with a poignant violin melody being supported by appropriately measured ensemble playing. A pause leads into a fine, almost enchanting passage where the first violin crafts expansive melodies, set against a gently rhythmic background. Now the cello has a part to play and dialogues with the solo violin, in a dance-like manner. Slowly, a new mood forms with an enthused violin part and an active ensemble. This eventually becomes understated and the violin is very melancholy here. Suddenly, a strong passage again leads into a final chord.
The brief third movement is set at a jaunty tempo in a classic Romantic style – shades of the past here. A rhythmic change leads to a charming section of violin melodies developed over ensemble thrusts. The sound is so sweet for a time, until an energy returns to the music, with flurries of violin strokes contributing to a joyful nature, which continues until the end.
The final movement opens in a virtuosic manner, with the first violin positively racing. There is a strong interplay with the ensemble here and the cello appears to mimic the violin, even to the extent of forceful trills. Now the music begins again, as the first violin fashions a new mood, one of fast lyrical lines and several virtuosic flourishes. A prominent descending violin line is repeated and the energy level is high. There is a strong final flourish to conclude.
The Second Quartet also opens in a positive manner, before giving way to a more serious tone with the first violin leading the ensemble through various harmonic backgrounds. Again, this is solidly Romantic music. An increase in tempo continues the serious sound with the first violin simply dazzling for a time. The backing is inherently busy, but still manages to respond to the melodic musings of the first violin. Nearing the end, a change of rhythm and harmony evoke Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings – high praise indeed. The conclusion lets the listener down easy.
The second, adagio movement is a stately exposition of a harmonised theme. This sumptuous, slightly serious melody is surrounded by a great deal of space. The music simply aches, belying its simplicity and is wonderfully executed. A cello part is simply outstanding, its rich tone blending with the violin. Now a gently pulsing ensemble rhythm is introduced – the violin is wistful at this time, as the ensemble ebbs gently. The tempo recedes and a rubato passage ensues, leading to a great depth of feeling. A new tempo is established but the violin is understated in its expression. The end comes ever so quietly.
The third, brief movement commences with a moderate tempo, accented by ensemble interjections. A pause leads to another rubato passage and then into an alluring rising melodic line, developing into a hint of some familiar phrase that I can’t quite place. A recapitulation of the opening follows to conclude.
The finale is energised and features delightful harmonised melodic lines at tempo. There is a feeling of the Classical era here – Mozart and Haydn. Now a dominant violin melody ensues, as the ensemble seem to struggle to keep up. Strong cello lines emerge and lead to a duet with the violin, evoking a feeling of great energy. This duet continues to evolve and undergoes several changes of harmony. With the return of the ensemble, the cello is no less evident and the violin positively races to a final flourish.
The review CD also contains a short, one-movement work by another Danish composer, Asger Hamerik who was a little later than Horneman. The CD titled Horneman – Hamerik: String Quartets, performed by the Arild String Quartet is available on Amazon US and UK.
Listenability: Fine, melodic Romantic works of great depth and melodic invention.